7 Tips on How to Avoid Nightmare Tenants

You seem to always hear about a landlord talking about their “nightmare tenant”.

I have an acquaintance who is a landlord and is constantly telling me the latest tenant horror story.

Tenant in jail for cutting a woman’s head with a machete, drugs being made in the house, dealing with evictions; it seems to be never-ending. All of these stories are followed up with, “see what you have to look forward to?”

We have officially been landlords for about one year now and do not yet have our horror story and I hope that we will never have one. So far we’ve gone through the tenant selection process with 2 units and have 1 unit that was an inherited tenant.

I think a major part of us having good luck so far was the selection process I went through to find the tenants. I didn’t just welcome in the first person to inquire about the property.


1. Diversify your advertising sources

In order for more people to see that you have a property for rent, you need to use a variety of advertising sources. I’ve had the most luck with Craigslist and yard signs.

I’ve also used Facebook groups and Zillow. Facebook definitely had a lottt more views and inquiries but nothing that really led to anything promising.

The more serious people seemed to be on Craigslist and calling my phone from the yard sign.

I considered using a newspaper if the vacancy lasted to long but it was more like a last resort type thing since it seemed pretty expensive.

The yard sign is great because a lot of times older people won’t have access to the internet and the only way they find out about it is seeing it from the road.

2. Take a sense of urgency as a warning sign

I can’t tell you how many people contacted me saying “I’m going to be homeless by Friday, I will do ANYTHING for you to rent me the unit.”

My response was always, “Please fill out the application. No pets allowed.”

“But I have a small dog. Is that okay?”

First of all, if you’re about to be homeless, how are you taking care of a pet. Second of all, I said no pets allowed so your dog is causing you to be homeless because you choose the dog over shelter. Now I have nothing against pet owners. It’s pet owners that can barely take care of themselves that I don’t understand.

Whenever someone is about to be homeless tomorrow, take that as a signal that something just isn’t right. Most likely, they are getting evicted from their current place. A normal renter will be inquiring about a month or so before their current lease expires.

An emergency or sense of urgency is almost always a bad sign.


3. Be wary of pets

It seems like there are two extremes on the viewpoints of allowing pets.

I’ve met landlords who will allow pets because they charge a pet fee and deposit. I’ve also met landlords who will not allow any pet under any circumstance whatsoever. I lean more toward the latter side.

On all applications, I stress the no pets allowed rule and it says “no pets” in the lease. The tenant I inherited does have a cat which doesn’t seem to be an issue yet. Implementing the no pets rule can increase your vacancy time majorly.

In January I started advertising one of our duplex units with the no pets rule. I think about 90% of people asking about it had a dog. I stayed firm with my no pets rule until finally I found someone that had no pets. This added about a month to my vacancy but now I don’t have to worry about the damage a pet could be causing.

You could maybe make a case for allowing a pet if you had no carpeting but I’ve still heard horror stories of having to refinish hardwood floors because of pet damage.

Funny story: I had a guy message me on Facebook asking about the unit available. He said he had an “emotional support dog”. Don’t even get me started on these. He then sent me a photo of him lying on a bed that was covered in laundry. He had no shirt on and had a pit bull cuddled up against his chest. This was a selfie, by the way.

Umm no, blocked! #sorrynotsorry


4. The internet is your best friend

You can find out a whole lot about a person from the internet.

The two things I look up on a prospective tenant is their Facebook page and then I look them up to see if they have any court records such as DUI, public intoxication, drugs, larceny, etc.

One day I was painting a rental to get it ready to rent out and a random couple stopped by. I think they had seen the ad on Craigslist and were driving by to see the neighborhood. When they saw that I was there, they asked if they could look around. They seemed very nice and I gave them an application to fill out at home. Once I got home, I looked up the guy on the crime website and found that he had multiple larcenies and had been caught with drugs several times.

This example goes hand in hand with tip #7 “Trust but Verify”.

Surprisingly, most people have their Facebook profiles set up so that anyone in the world can view their entire profile. Crazy. This is often the best way to weed someone out.


5. Do your due diligence

Always, always, always, do your due diligence.

Yes, it takes more time and effort, but in the end it will be worth it.

I make people fill out an application. No application, no renting from me. The application has sections for personal references, prior and current landlords, and current employers.

Usually the personal references are family members or friends so I don’t really put much reliability on these since they could easily stretch the truth in order to make the applicant seem better than they are.

When calling the landlords, I usually call the prior landlord. If the prospective tenant is trouble and you call the current landlord, they will likely tell you what a great tenant they are so that they can get rid of them and make them your problem. Always, if you can, call the prior landlords. They have nothing to lose by telling you how bad of a tenant they were.

Calling the employer is also helpful. I usually ask how long they’ve been working there, how they get along with their co-workers, and if they show up on time and do what they’re supposed to. This will give you a good insight on how likely they are to keep their job.

Something else I do is ask for proof of income such as a screenshot of a direct deposit or a copy of a recent paystub.


6. Do not decide with your emotions

You can hear a lot of sob stories being a landlord.

Be strong, and listen to your brain, not your heart.

You have a business to run, to make money. This is not a shelter or a charity. Yes, it can be difficult at times to say no to the single mother with 3 kids but if she doesn’t make enough money to cover the rent, you can’t cover it for her.


7. Trust but verify

As Ronald Reagan said many times, “trust but verify.”

This sort of ties in with the due diligence section. Verify, verify, verify.

Some people are very good liars. They can make you believe anything they want you to think.

Just nod and smile as you’re talking to them, then do your own research. People will say and do anything when they’re in a desperate situation.


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